Profiles in Liberty - Eric Garris

 

Eric Garris – Building Websites and Alliances

Trent Hill

We members of the liberty movement often criticize “the media” for various reasons, including the fact that our more pro-liberty viewpoints do not often get a hearing. But what would you say if you knew there was one man whose three pro-liberty websites had topped 10.5 million pageviews last month? The story of Eric Garris is a picture-perfect account of a libertarian who has used the Internet to spread the message. He is the longtime webmaster of two of the most well-read pro-liberty websites on the Internet: LewRockwell.com and Antiwar.com, as well as the less visited, but no less important, Ballot-Access.org.

Garris founded, and is now the managing editor of, Antiwar.com. This is easily the most popular and influential antiwar website on the Internet. Each day the site aggregates a number of links concerning wars, conflicts, and military events from all over the world. At Atniwar.com, one can get a perspective on conflicts ranging from Indonesia to Ireland, Sri Lanka to El Salvador, Mexico to Mongolia—all in the space of minutes. Add to this the hard-hitting, sardonic, original commentary of Justin Raimondo, the site’s editorial director, and you have a recipe for success. To hear Garris talk about Antiwar.com, you’d think the battle against war was already won. His enthusiasm for peace is palpable and contagious—I found myself willing conflicts to an abrupt end when he spoke against them, both with force and passion. This optimism for the future was, however, at times tempered with a pragmatic recognition of history. He repeatedly pointed to the Vietnam era as one that galvanized pro-peace forces, but he lamented the fact that a war had to be claiming the lives of American boys in order for Americans to strive for peace.

Antiwar.com was founded in 1995, but at first resembled a hobby more than a vital source of breaking news. For the first years of its existence, the site was updated sporadically. It is no coincidence that the site became a more serious endeavor in 1998, when President Clinton rashly involved America in the Kosovo War. It was then that the site began updating daily, as well as breaking stories on the conflict. Garris and his website were featured on PBS and in the Washington Post, which resulted in a surge in popularity.

LewRockwell.com is a website most people in the liberty movement are at least familiar with. Garris is a webmaster and occasional blogger there, too. This site has the largest audience of any of his projects, as well as a constant stream of original content from some of the movement’s most recognizable names. Ballot-Access.org, meanwhile, is the website of Richard Winger, nationally renowned ballot-access expert. Though this website is much less frequented than the other projects Garris works on, it has been of vital importance to keeping political third parties on ballots around the country. Garris called what Winger does to advance fair election laws “heroic and thankless.” One might apply similar words to Garris’s efforts.

The San Francisco-based webmaster would demur with humility if someone were to call him a luminary or leader of the freedom movement, but that he certainly is. In fact, Eric Garris has been in the forefront of the libertarian movement since the early ’70s. Living in California, Eric worked for the presidential campaign of Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician, author, and explicitly socialist Peace and Freedom Party nominee. Garris got involved in the antiwar movement, where he soon came into contact with libertarians who were also against the war and were able to convert him to a more pro-liberty point of view. Among the people who were most influential on Garris in those early days were Gene Berkman, owner of Renaissance Books, and Willis Stone, the founder and director of the Liberty Amendment Committee. It was around this time that he realized, “the way to stop war isn’t more government, it is much, much less government.” His conviction that “economic and personal freedom are inseparable” led him to thinkers like Murray Rothbard. However, his time in the Peace and Freedom Party was not yet over—in 1974 he and a group of similarly converted members took over the party and rewrote the platform to reflect their libertarian views. This demonstrates the two sides of Garris’s nature: he is both a principled ideas-man and an individual upon whom the liberty movement can depend on for action.

Garris was a leader in Students for a Libertarian Society in the ’70s. He recognized, early on the importance of student organizations like Young Americans for Liberty. He was an alliance-builder from the start. In 1986 he helped to found the Libertarian Republican Organizing Committee. This was meant to be a vehicle by which libertarians could run in elections as Republicans. Of this effort, Garris said, “We won a lot of primaries and were able to get a lot of our candidates running as Republicans.” It could be said that this was a precursor to the Ron Paul movement, which is now in the process of doing the same thing. When asked about the Ron Paul presidential campaign he remarked enthusiastically that it was “the most successful libertarian movement that I have seen in my lifetime. Ron Paul is so unique in electoral politics.” Garris has known Ron Paul since the ’70s, but is still every bit as impressed with him as the day he met him. As my conversation with him was burgeoning on two hours already, Garris began to describe to me how much he appreciated the leadership of Ron Paul and what set him apart from every other elected official. His faith, he says, is not put in “particular people or politicians,” but in ideas and alliances. This makes a great deal of sense, too, if one examines Garris’s history. He ran for office seven times and never made significant headway, but he served as Director of Republicans for Proposition 215, a medical-marijuana initiative that passed in 1996. Similarly, his alliance-building efforts through Antiwar.com and idea-disseminating endeavors with LewRockwell.com and Students for a Libertarian Society were quite successful.

LewRockwell.com is host to an article by Mr. Garris called The Internet vs. the State. It begins with an anecdote whereby Timothy Leary, the famous guru of hallucinogenic substances, speaks to a Libertarian Party convention and tells them about “something called the Internet.” Virtually everyone in the room, Garris said in his retelling of the story, was doubtful about the positive influence this “Internet” could have on the pro-liberty movement. Garris now admits that it has done what Leary said it would and much more. Although he was skeptical, and Justin Raimondo called it “a passing fad,” Garris is certainly glad it exists now:

The Internet really is the destined home for libertarianism, and our greatest hope for freedom. On it we see the free market of ideas and services flourish even as the politicians try to stamp out civil society in real space. On it we see the truth win out over the political and media establishment. On it we see the spirit of liberty.

The state cannot catch up to, it cannot match, and it cannot begin to comprehend the full power of the Internet. Politicians are baffled by it because it doesn’t conform to their assumptions about the world, about human organization, about the need for central planning. The glorious Internet is a major source of confusion for all with a statist mindset.

The net is revolutionizing society, all toward more voluntary, civil, and efficient methods of organization. It has given us all a way to participate in speaking the truth and standing up to the state. The Internet is ours—it belongs to the people and especially the friends of freedom and peace who feel so at home online because it is so free and so much the way we’d like to see the rest of the world.

Garris is right, the Internet functions as a microcosm of the type of world we liberty activists envision: it is without (much) government intervention and thrives as a constant example of the spontaneous order that arises when men are left to deal with each other. Though Garris has long worked in the background of the movement, he should be held aloft as an example. He is both intelligent and active, humble and accomplished, assertive and tolerant. Though he has worked on hundreds of campaigns since his teenage years, he says, “I feel like the work I am doing now is the most important I’ve done in my life.” Although his reputation may not match his accomplishments, because of his discomfort with the spotlight, Eric Garris is anything but a negligible character in the history, and future, of the liberty movement in America—as well as the antiwar movement worldwide.

 

Trent Hill [thill19@lsu.edu] is a history major at Louisiana State University and the editor of IndependentPoliticalReport.com.